The Bhikkhus Rules

A Guide for Laypeople

by Bhikkhu Ariyesako | 1998 | 50,970 words

The Theravadin Buddhist Monk's Rules compiled and explained by: Bhikkhu Ariyesako Discipline is for the sake of restraint, restraint for the sake of freedom from remorse, freedom from remorse for the sake of joy, joy for the sake of rapture, rapture for the sake of tranquillity, tranquillity for the sake of pleasure, pleasure for the sake of conce...

The basic clothing that the Buddha originally suggested for a bhikkhu was made from discarded cloth (rags) sewn together and dyed.[1] After sewing the pieces together, they were just large rectangular pieces of cloth worn wraparound style. In the beginning,[2] it seems that there were two robes: a sarong skirt like robe (antaravaasaka) tied with a belt, and a robe to cover the upper part of the body (uttaraasa"nga). When the cold weather required more protection, the Buddha allowed a third robe, which was a double thickness outer robe (sa"nghaa.ti).

Some rules limit the size of robes because cloth in India in those days was expensive due to the simple methods of spinning and weaving. Also, so that the robe would not be worth stealing, the cloth always had to be cut into panels that were then sewn together based on the design of paddy fields seen from a mountain:[3]

After having received an offering of white cloth and having properly cut and sewn the panels together, the bhikkhu must dye it to produce the yellow robe. Traditionally, vegetable dyes were used in this process. Different plants and woods when boiled up will produce slightly different shades of dye color — the Paali text calls the standard color kaasaaya or kaasaava, translated as dun colored dye water[4] — so there is some variety. When bhikkhus from different communities come together, their different shades of yellow dyed robes makes this very noticeable. (The destruction of the South East Asian forests has led to chemical dyes being used more frequently, so that cloth offered nowadays is often pre dyed and brighter in color.)

Slightly varied styles of wearing the traditional set of three robes have developed over the years in different countries.[5] But basically, the rectangular shaped robe is put around the body and the two vertical edges are folded or rolled together. Then either it is tucked in and secured with a belt (for the skirt robe) or, for the larger outer robes, the edge is thrown or flicked over the left shoulder and pinched under the left arm so that it will not slip off. There are various techniques for this. (It needs some practice!)

In the Lord Buddhas time, it was a sign of respect to bare ones right shoulder. Therefore when in the monastery the bhikkhu will normally wear his outer robe with the right shoulder visible. On leaving the monastery for inhabited areas he must cover both shoulders.[6]

In addition to this required set of the triple robe, which every bhikkhu must have and look after, there are extra cloths that can be used occasionally.[7]

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

The discarded cloth would be thoroughly washed and possibly bleached before it could be dyed. Nowadays robes made this way are rare and probably used only by a few forest monks. He gave this reflection:

"Properly considering the robe, I use it: simply to ward off cold, to ward off heat, to ward off the touch of flies, mosquitoes, simply for the purpose of covering the parts of the body which cause shame." [OP p.46; (Paali: M. I, 10; A. III, 387)]

[2]:

"In the Buddhas time, the style of clothing of one gone forth and that of a householder were very similar — a cloth around the waist and one across the shoulders. Thus at Vin.III,211, Venerable Upananda asks for the upper cloth from the son of a rich merchant). The only difference would be in the color, that is, ochre for one gone forth." (HS ch.8)

[3]:

There is some uncertainty as to the maximum size allowed. (See BMC p.528) Also, cloth now is not such a luxury and humans nowadays seem to be physically bigger; so robes can now be found as large as 3 x 2 metres for the upper and outer robes, 2.5 x 1 meter for the skirt robe.

Though five panels are shown in this figure, there can be seven, nine, or more (usually an odd number) depending on the size of the cloth.

[4]:

"Variously translated: Pali English Dictionary page 212 says a kind of brown, i.e., yellow; Childers (p.190) has reddish yellow, yellow; Upasak (p.70) says yellow reddish color. Present day renunciants in India wear orange colored clothing. Perhaps ochre would be a good translation. In Thailand robes vary in color from bright orange to reddish brown for the city- and village dwelling monks to tan through chocolate brown for the forest dwelling monks." (HS Endnotes)

In Thailand this color is considered to be "yellow mixed with much red or the ochre yellow which is the color obtained from the heartwood of the Jack fruit tree." (EV,II,pp.15-17) The heartwood of the jack fruit tree (Artocarpus integrifolia (Urticaceaea)) is now difficult to find due to deforestation.

[5]:

For example, in Thailand the double thickness outer robe is often ceremonially folded over the left shoulder; in Burma the upper robe sometime reaches high up the neck. And the method of wearing and rolling the robe edges will differ from community to community.

[6]:

The Sekhiya Training Rules require that a bhikkhu be properly covered from the neck to the knees and that the robe be even all around. See Proper Behavior Outside the Monastery.

[7]:

e.g., a bathing cloth, handkerchief, towel, etc. In Thailand, it has become accepted practice for a monk always to wear a shoulder cloth (angsa) under his robe. While working in the monastery he may then put his upper robe aside. In western countries with harsh winters an extra under robe, with socks, gloves, etc., are often worn for added warmth.

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